What are important issues for OEMs designing control systems for packaging machines?
We see OEMs addressing three basic issues: increasing performance of machines through higher throughput and better handling of products, cost reduction aimed at increasing competitiveness and machine serviceability. New control architectures have reduced system costs significantly, increasing machine performance and allowing for adoption of higher levels of automation.
What are key trends in motion control for packaging automation?
As more servos are being applied to machines, distributed intelligence is becoming more important. Drives with onboard microprocessors do electronic lineshafting, gearing and camming functions at the drive level and provide solutions for distributed control.
We also see a trend to include servos, pneumatics and hydraulic devices in single systems. New platforms, and standardization on key fieldbus protocols provide an ability to control all of the automation on a packaging machine with a single software controls’ package. Technology function blocks communicated over SERCOS, Ethernet, Profibus or DeviceNet allow users to configure and control all types of pneumatic valves, servos and motors using the same software.
What are new ideas for addressing serviceability issues?
One area is servo drive algorithms for predictive maintenance. At the drive level, these algorithms model the mechanics of the system and detect changes in the mechanical properties of the machine. Because closed loop servos monitor torque, friction and load changes by design, we can create a mathematical model and users can set parameters to provide warnings, change modes or shutdown.
If you look at a rotary turret filling 50-60 pouches with sugar, product spillage can affect the torque of the axes over time. But there isn’t a need for a shutdown error if we can annunciate that the torque has hit the 80 percent range and the machine needs to be cleaned at the next scheduled opportunity.
What control technologies offer unique benefits for packaging OEMs?
One emerging technology is scalable platforms that offer solutions for drive-based control, traditional rack-based PLC and motion controller architectures and PC-based solutions. For packaging OEMs, the variety of solutions provides ways to add automation to a broad spectrum of packaging machines.
An emerging technology that offers unique benefits is motors with integrated drives. When you look at motors with integrated drives, they can have a direct impact on the cost of the overall machine. By taking the drives out of the electrical cabinet and placing them on the motors, the result is smaller control cabinets. With a single cable daisy chaining out to as many as 20 motor-drives, there is a significant reduction in cables, cable tracks and wiring. The impact to the OEM can be cost reductions as high as 30-40 percent of their overall machine cost.
What other important factors are influencing packaging machine design in North America?
When we look at food and packaging machines sold in 2006, there is an alarming number of international machines with export rates as high as 80 percent coming largely into the American market. We have seen the demise of the automotive machinery building OEMs over the past five to 10 years to where today, there are only 20 percent of those OEMs still producing machines.
International OEMs have focused on reducing costs, increasing performance and guaranteeing efficiencies without adhering to the controls’ specifications of the large-end users. North American packaging OEMs should not buy into end user specifications where it’s not in their best interest and choose the lowest cost solution for high-performance systems on their own merit.